Responding to feedback given to them by many colleges and universities, the Common App decided to add a question asking students to reflect on their experiences in the time of COVID:
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives and postsecondary plans for many students. We want to reduce anxiety for applicants affected by these events and provide them with a way to share their experience with colleges and universities.
Next year, on the 2020-2021 application, Common App will provide students who need it with a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically. We want to provide colleges with the information they need, with the goal of having students answer COVID-19 questions only once while using the rest of the application as they would have before to share their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19.
Below is the question applicants will see:
Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.
- Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
- Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.
The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application.The response length will be limited to 250 words.
The question will be accompanied by a more detailed FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.
The new language will not replace the current Additional Information question inviting students to discuss circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application. That question, along with its 650 word limit, will remain.
Although the COVID supplementary question is optional, I suggest students do ALL optional questions.
In this particular case, anything less would reflect a kind of backing away from personal responsibility. Instead, it is an opportunity to show your awareness of and locate yourself in this very grave moment in history.
But how should you approach such a question? After all, you can’t rely on models from the past.
It’s a brave new world we are living in — and one which asks more of us than ever before.
Parents and students alike have been asking me how I would approach the COVID supplement.
I’d like to offer some concrete advice and some tips that will help you think about what to write and how best to use this opportunity.
Let me say first that you’ll need to decide how much you have to say on the subject.
Of course, as I mentioned, whether or not you have a lot to say, you still need to answer the question (IMHO 😉
I have a student who wrote his 650-word Common App essay on COVID. His family is Italian and was particularly impacted by the first wave that hit Italy. He wrote a beautiful, full-length essay on the subject which showed his unique relationship to COVID under the circumstances that ended with his desire to make a contribution through science, which is his intended course of study.
Should he write another essay on the subject of COVID and his response to it for the COVID supplement if he has already written on the subject for his required Common App Essay?
My answer is . . . absolutely!
But from another point of view. His first essay was about his family and the impact of COVID in Italy, specifically — the impact of his grandfather, the death of one of his grandfather’s friends.
He did not speak at all about his experience with remote learning, his relationship to his other grandfather, who is a doctor, or even how it is for him to shelter in place.
So in addition to his 650 word Common App essay on COVID, he, too, is working on the COVID Supplement.
With regard to the pandemic, we are riding out the same storm, but we are all in different boats, meaning each of us has a unique experience based on where we live, how old we are, how healthy we are, what resources we have available to us.
So it is important to reflect directly on one’s own experience. That is the place to start and really is what the question is asking:
Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.
Because of the rapidly-changing nature of this situation, I have suggested to students that they might want to wait a few months before actually writing this supplement, unless they have a burning desire to do it now, and feel equipped to go through the process of writing it from beginning to end. But what if the situation takes a radical turn in a few weeks? Perfectly possible.
So rather than set out to write the COVID supplement now, what I have suggested is that students do the following as a way to prepare for an essay they will write after there is more water under the bridge, so to speak:
- Make a personal timeline for yourself. When did you find out about the virus? When was your last day of classes? What other salient events unfolded because or in light of COVID-19?
- Keep a running journal of what you feel in response to the situation, notes on articles you have read or news stories you have listened to, or even conversations you have had about the pandemic.
- Read what others have written about the subject. There are personal stories out there, very much along the lines of the COVID supplement. Look in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic . . . publications which will highlight personal responses to the pandemic.
Don’t let these ideas sit in your head without writing them down.
It might even be useful to keep a COVID journal.
In my work with students on this supplement, I have found myself emphasizing again and again that they need to look within for their own personal responses to this situation. For the last three months, no one went to school, so there’s nothing particularly unique in the experience of remote learning — unless there is! What I mean here is that you have to dig deep to find your own responses to a situation that affects everyone on the planet.
Recently, I purchased an anthology that just came out called Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic.
(I use the cover photo for this blog.)
This book is a perfect example of what I’m speaking about. Here are the responses, in the form of poems, of many, many people looking inward and expressing in words how COVID has impacted them.
I’ve compiled a list of approaches and points of inspiration that I’ve gotten from this book for students to use in thinking about how to write a uniquely personal and powerful Common App COVID Supplement.
I would be happy to guide you in the process of writing this essay. Personally, I think a deeply felt and beautifully written COVID supplement could make a real difference in your application, and potentially tip the scales in your favor.
Colleges are always interested in how prospective students respond to adversity, and there is no doubt that this pandemic is testing the strength, creativity, patience and adaptability of us all. Stay well, stay safe!
Call on me if you need me. I’m here for you.